3 Things You Can Learn From Elon Musk to Create More Success in Your Life

Sendhil Mullainathan Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos

Recently, you may have noticed that Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have been locked in a back and forth race for the wealthiest man on the planet.

And while that may make for great clickbait headlines, it takes away from the main point and, in some ways, creates more harm than help.

For many people, comparisons don’t help us to feel good. In fact, research has shown that since the advent of social media, unhappiness and depression have increased due to the perception of other people having happier lives via their posts.

So, instead of using comparisons to feel good or bad, let’s use some comparisons to learn and grow.

And since, Elon Musk is on the top by some metrics that many of us value, i.e. repeatable business success, financial wealth, and the ability to bounce back from adversity, he would seem like a good place to start.

Come From a Place of Service

At its most fundamental level, to have a successful business, you must provide a product or service that makes another person’s life easier, better, or happier. Preferably all three.

If you do this then want to do business with you, if you don’t, even if you’re great, they will eventually look and find a way to replace you.

“All things being equal, people buy from people they like. All things being unequal people still buy from people they like.”

Tim Sanders, The Likeability Factor

It also doesn’t matter if you are an entrepreneur or an employee, the same litmus test applies. The customer is the person putting money in your pocket, individuals, organizations, or your boss. Be focused on making that entity’s life better.

You don’t need to be the best or even perfect to come from a place of service, all it takes is a willingness to help.

Red Tesla Roadster orbiting Earth

Red Tesla Roadster orbiting Earth

When Elon Musk started Tesla, he was sure it was going to fail. After all, how could one guy challenge the supremacy of the Big 3 automakers of the US, let alone also the Japanese and the Germans?

Elon started Tesla because he felt it was important to reevaluate how cars were produced, sold, and the impact they had on the planet. Even if it failed, it would get the conversation started and he was willing to bet a big portion of his wealth to have the conversation.

The same reasons apply to Elon’s other business ventures:

  • PayPal — to make financial transactions easier for everybody
  • SpaceX — to make space travel more easy and affordable and to make man an interplanetary species, improving our chance for survival
  • The Boring Company — create an alternative for gridlock and traffic congestion on freeways
  • NeuraLink — create a seamless way for man to interact with technology

That epitomizes coming from a place of service.

What are you doing to serve those around you? How can you serve them better?

Learn from Experts and By Doing

Ego can be the biggest hurdle for your success.

Not knowing, making mistakes, and looking foolish.

But that doesn’t stop Elon.

When Elon wants to pursue a BHAG, he puts his ego aside and talks to experts. As many as needed to help him explore his vision.

Not only that, but Elon also learns everything he can about the field. He dives deep into learning mode until he breaks the subject down into its First Principles, not making assumptions or taking anything for granted.

And then Elon starts taking action, not afraid to make mistakes or to look foolish.

Elon knows the secret to success is willing to not look or be good as you are starting out and that there will be nay-sayers all along the way. Even when those naysayers are your heroes.

This is probably most relevant with SpaceX, where the many failures, especially in the beginning, were so glaring for everybody to see.

How Not to Land an Orbital Rocket Booster

And through it all, Elon was able to focus on learning through the mistakes almost as much as enjoying the successes.

It’s a testament to Elon Musk and his leadership that even when events go poorly, they are able to reframe it in a positive light,

“Again, we’ve just got to work on that landing a little bit,” SpaceX principal integration engineer John Insprucker said during SpaceX’s launch webcast.

“We got a lot of good data, and the primary objective — to demonstrate control of the vehicle in the subsonic re-entry — looked to be very good, and we will take a lot out of that,” he added.

You learn best by doing.

And in the doing, mistakes are going to happen.

And you might even look foolish.

The question is, are you going to let that stop you?

Don’t Be a One-Trick Pony

Do you know of people who are so good at one thing that they’re afraid to try anything new?

You hear it all the time.

The creative artist who says she’s not wired to be structured.

Or, the stoic academic researcher who’s too stiff to relax and enjoy himself on the dancefloor?

We all have strengths. But those strengths can be our biggest weaknesses when we let them override our lives.

That’s another thing that’s amazing about Elon Musk, the range of business ventures he explores.

He started in the fintech industry with X.com, which later became PayPal. Then the space industry with SpaceX, the auto industry with Tesla, urban development with The Boring Company, and bio-engineering with NeuraLink.

The guy is all over the place.

Not only is he willing to try and be willing to fail.

But he is also willing to do it again and again and again. And in different fields.

How many of us give up after running into hurdles in just one area of endeavor? Let alone many?

What stops you from picking yourself up and trying again?

If you are extremely talented and qualified in one area, do you use that as an egoic-label to prevent you from trying new things?

Personality temperaments and the lies we tell ourselves hold us back from truly living. Have you taken one of those temperament tests for work that Human Resources doles out?

Whether it’s DISC, Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, Hogan Assessment, or whatever, the problem with them is that they are static snapshot pictures and are not the video movie that you are in life.

Don’t get me wrong, those quizzes are great to build some insights into patterns you may have but they are not the sum total of who you are.

One key to success is to be willing to try things out just to see what will happen, in the same way, that Elon started Tesla so many years ago.

And since that time, and all of those experiments, Tesla has outpaced all of those automotive giants.

The same thing for SpaceX, with all of its glorious failures and explosions, it is almost normal happenstance that you hear about another SpaceX rocket launch and payload or satellite delivery, hardly makes the news anymore.

So what are you willing to let go of so that you can try something new?

How are you willing to look foolish so that you can enjoy life more?

What new tricks are you willing to play with?

And if it’s any consolation, mine is coaching and writing.

After almost 20 years on the mat with GM Bong Soo Han, and over 35 years in construction, with the egoic-labels of martial artist and construction worker, I’m now embracing new labels as a leadership coach and thought-leadership content-creator.

Sometimes, I mess up with coaching clients, and sometimes I’m really embarrassed by my writing, but I’ve learned over the years on the mat and on the job, that was the only way to get better.

So we shall see…

Let me know what you’re embracing to be more successful.

Life-long learner and idea machine.